Tad Rocha: “We are not alone.”
Tad Rocha: “We are not alone.”
Tadeu “Tad” Rocha found out that he has a recurrence of Brain Cancer and recently completed surgery to remove it. He will begin radiotherapy in Seattle as an outpatient, then he will undergo chemotherapy back home in Brazil. Tad came to Seattle (where he has friends) because Brazil doesn’t have Proton radiotherapy. Radiotherapy allows him to have treatment and then return to his hotel to work. The treatment requires Tad to go to the University of Washington, Proton Therapy Center, every day for half an hour, for 30 days. He believes this treatment will be relatively easy, stating that his worst case scenario is losing some hair that will grow back, and a bit of fatigue.
Tad is excited to share his story because he’s dealing with a rare issue and feels there should be more awareness.
“At the end of the day, those of us who face brain tumors are a community because only we can fully understand what each other are going through,” Tad explained.
He is so grateful that he found out about Heart of The Brain through Isabel and her Brain Cancer Survivor support group.
Tad is 32 years old now, and was 29 when he was first diagnosed.
Tad explains his completely coincidental story of how he was diagnosed:
“In 2018, I wanted to lose weight, so I went to a doctor and asked for a battery of exams. Without going into details, one of the tests indicated there was an elevated level. Based on my own research, I requested an MRI of the brain. I am lucky because in Brazil you have a lot of flexibility to ask doctors to prescribe exams. Little did I know I had a one and half inch tumor on my right temporal lobe”.
Tad said he had no issues that would have led him to believe he had a tumor. In fact, in 2018, he had just returned to Brazil from the US where he completed his MBA at MIT. He felt he was at the peak of his cognitive abilities and having a successful career. It was a shock to find out he had a tumor, but as he looks back now, he thinks maybe there were some symptoms. For example, Tad said he talks a lot and the tumor is in the part of the brain that controls the inhibitions of speech. Also, he would sometimes have these movements – kind of like twitches – when he was tense and thinks those might have been symptoms. But overall, he had no major symptoms, never had a seizure of any kind. Tad believes it was completely coincidental and meant to be that he found out he had a brain tumor.
“It is crazy that you can be at the top of your world, everything is working out for you and then you find out that you have a disease like this! I like to think that I got lucky to find it sooner, and be able to treat the tumor before it got bigger”.
Tad was completely shocked when he heard his diagnosis. He read everything and learned as much as he could about his condition. The radiology report indicated that it was probably a low grade glioma. He immediately began researching and went to 3 different neurosurgeons in Brazil. They told him two things: 1) it was a tumor and 2) the best course of action was resection.
Next, Tad started the process to determine where to do the surgery. He underwent an 11-hour surgery in Brazil in 2018. It was an awake craniotomy. During the procedure, the surgeon asked questions and monitored the activity in the brain as Tad responded, to ensure no loss of cognitive abilities. Tad speaks both English and Portuguese so he was speaking both languages during the surgery. The surgery was a success, and without any deficits!
Tad shares that after his first surgery, he had a tough decision to make. He knew that additional treatments would be helpful to avoid the chance of recurrence, but at the same time, his Neurosurgeon said these kinds of low grade gliomas are so rare and his resection was very good. Since he was low risk for recurrence, he decided to “watch and wait”. The Nuero-oncologist said he could have additional treatment, but Tad decided at the end of the day, he would trust that the surgery was radical enough, and he didn’t need any further treatment.
A little more than 2 years later, his brain scan images started to show change. By the third year, the radiologist report showed a small mass at the resection site. Tad underwent a second surgery for resection of this smaller tumor. Again, he felt he was very lucky with his surgery and had no major deficits. But this time he decided to have additional follow up treatment of Radiotherapy and Chemotherapy.
Tad shares what inspires him and helps him get through his difficult moments:
“We are not alone. It really gives me energy to know that there are so many brave people fighting against this everywhere, and people researching, and there are people like Isabel helping others and impacting our lives too. So first, we are not alone. Other people are going through something similar. Then there are the friendships. As humans, we are looking for connections to other people.
The second thing is to ENJOY. This disease helps us get perspective. We see how the small problems in life are really small problems compared to this. Perspective really changed me.
And then you really need to believe. I always tell my therapist there are two options: Either, what we are facing can have a meaning, and our purpose is to do something and to learn from this. Or, the second option is that this life has no meaning and this is all random. I choose to believe the first one.”
Today, with his contagious smile, he shared that the worst thing and the best thing happened to him in the same week. He got the news of his recurrence but he received the best news that his wife is pregnant and he is going to be a father!! Being a dad has always been Tad’s dream!
Tad is currently receiving Radiotherapy here in the US. Once that is completed, he and his wife will return to Brazil where Tad will undergo chemotherapy. Their child will be born in Brazil, in the new apartment they just purchased, which is currently being renovated.
Tad feels strong and completely committed and ready to fight. He also wants to get more involved in helping others like him. He is involved in Biotech in Brazil and hopes to get involved in technology for cancer treatment. He says for the last 3 years he has avoided the “Big C word”, but now he feels it’s time to recognize it’s the enemy he can face and fight! He is determined not to just fight for his life, but also for other people’s lives as well.
“It is a problem, but like all problems, we just need to find a way to solve it”.
Tad’s parting words of wisdom:
“Especially for newly diagnosed people, that was the hardest moment for me. In my case, I was 30 years old and I thought I had everything I wanted for my life, then suddenly my life seemed over. I want to tell people their life is NOT over.
In the last 3 years, I got promoted twice, my marriage only got better, I got a new home, I learned so much, I got a Master’s Degree and l LIVED my life. Also, I thought I would never again have a day that I would forget about my glioma for even a minute. The first few weeks and months, all I could think about was this disease, then 3 years later I would find myself a whole week not thinking about the disease.
So, now again, I am concerned about it and going to face the treatment, but I know this disease doesn’t define me or my life. I can overcome it and LIVE again. No one knows how long we are going to live but we can fight and live life to the fullest. I think that is the most important thing, to learn from the disease.
I spent 10 years before the disease, thinking about and planning for the future. Now I know the future is a fiction we make in our heads. I would tell anyone newly diagnosed, a day will come when the disease won’t be the defining thing in your life, you will be a better person and you will be living more in the moment than you were before.”